Language of scientific publishing

Frank Gannon in his EMBO Reports editorial this month (9, 207; 2008), Language barriers, writes about the stark contrast between his own ability to write in English and “the difficulties faced by scientists for whom English is a second language, and who have to cope with the much more restricted style of a scientific report.” Dr Gannon goes on to discuss the differences between standard English language and the arcane, depersonalised style favoured by (or taught to) many when writing scientific reports, quoting the view that “the public would not bother to read scientific papers even if the journals were lying around for free, simply because scientific prose is largely unreadable for the non-expert—and often only barely readable for the expert.”

Although English seems set to be the main language of science for the foreseeable future, it is worth noting that the Nature journals do encourage authors to use direct, plain prose. Our subeditors and copyeditors help authors of accepted manuscripts who are not native English speakers, and we provide advice on our website which we hope will be useful to scientists preparing a paper before submission to one of our journals. Advice is also available at Nature Network, for example at Linda Cooper’s excellent advice blog Time for a change, and Ai Lin Chun’s forum Nature Nanotechnology — Asia Pacific and beyond.

See related article in the same issue of EMBO Reports as the Editorial discussed here:

Six senses in the literature: the bleak sensory landscape of biomedical texts by Raul Rodriguez-Esteban and Andrey Rzhetsky (EMBO R. 9, 212–215; 2008).


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